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Walking's the Way to Experience Big D Frontier

June 29, 1986|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

DALLAS — "Start here and walk with Big D into the 1990s!"

That's what Dallas is telling visitors as the city looks beyond Texas Sesquicentennial celebrations over the next few months to the coming years during which tourism will become increasingly vital to the city's economy.

The word walk is more than a metaphor. With an estimated 93 million recreational walkers in the United States, walking has become the nation's favorite fitness activity and a major factor in city sightseeing. Dallas is positioning itself in the forefront of all travel trends and wants its share of action from the walkers of the world.

Many Attractions

The "Dallas Downtown Walking Tour" brochure describes 66 inner-city destinations, from the spectacular overview atop Reunion Tower to the West End Historic District, the John F. Kennedy Memorial, Thanks-Giving Square and the live oak trees around the fountain in Ferris Plaza. Also included is the preview of the architecture-of-tomorrow emerging at the site of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's new home, which is targeted for a 1988 grand opening.

You can walk half an hour at a time or as long as 10 hours, depending on your stamina and how much you want to sightsee along the way.

The bottom line is: Dallas wants to use its comparative economic clout to grab a greater share of Texas' tourism.

As in all of the Lone Star State, the economy of Dallas has been hit hard by the temporary surplus of oil on the world market and the consequent drop in state revenue.

However, with a more diversified economic base, Dallas is in a stronger position than most other destinations in Texas to promote its tourist attractions to the national and international markets.

In addition to more than 100 companies directly dependent on the oil industry, Dallas is the No. 1 center of insurance companies in the United States. More than 400 of the Fortune 500 list of largest U.S. industrial corporations have representation in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Dallas-based firms such as the nationwide HCB Construction Co., which has just completed the new Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, are helping to carry the Dallas story from coast to coast.

With tourism already its fifth-largest industry, Dallas is the No. 1 tourist city in Texas, the third-largest state in tourist traffic. The "Dallas Today" brochure describes its attractions in Spanish, French and German as well as English.

Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is served by more than 20 national and international airlines.

In addition to Crescent Court Hotel that opened in December as part of the Crescent complex of office towers and tri-level marketplace of shops and galleries, seven more hotels are scheduled to open within the next two years.

The Downtown Lunch Crowd

Let's set the mood for a downtown walk by starting in Thanks-Giving Square at noon. This one-of-a-kind mid-town park is dedicated to meditation and giving thanks, "the habit of the grateful heart." The Three Bells of Thanks-Giving peal out during the noon hour on weekdays and every half-hour on weekends and holidays.

The chapel in the Hall of World Thanksgiving offers an opportunity for quiet reflection and a personal expression of thanks. Special events and interfaith services are scheduled in the chapel garden. National flags symbolize the world community.

During the noon hour, office workers eat their brown-bag lunches while sunning on park benches.

A few moments' walk east is the Majestic Theater, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and renovated as a theater for ballet, drama and music.

About six blocks north of Thanks-Giving Square is the Dallas Museum of Art and its outdoor sculpture garden. Three blocks south of the square is the home of the internationally famous Neiman-Marcus stores.

A leisurely 10-minute walk west, through modern high-rises, leads to the West End Historic District where warehouses built early in this century are being renovated into restaurants and night spots.

In the nearby Historical Plaza is the John Neely Bryan cabin on a bluff above the Trinity River where Dallas was born when he established his trading post there in 1841. During the next decade the Republic of Texas opened its central national road.

Close by, a group of visionary French settlers founded La Reunion, a Utopian settlement, in 1854. In the following years, Swiss and German settlers added to the international mix.

Within the Reunion complex today, the atrium lobby of the 1,000-room Hyatt Regency appears to be sheer walls of glass. And it is from the geodesic dome of Reunion Tower that you can get a perspective of the greater metropolitan area in which 3 million people live. Parks and suburban areas beckon the walker in every direction.

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